Let's Eat

Catch the Pidgin for crazy flavours

Dan Graham's menus are inspired by his travels and his Jewish roots.


Tucked away on a back street in Stoke Newington, is a diminutive restaurant called Pidgin. This unassuming establishment with its Parisian bistro tables and simple wooden chairs, is currently Trip Advisor’s highest listed of the more than sixty restaurants with Michelin stars in London. The brainchild of Sam Herlihy and James Ramsden, who ran a hip supper club called The Secret Larder, Pidgin’s kitchen is run by self-taught 30-year-old head chef, Dan Graham.

Growing up, Dan remembers helping in his grandparents’ kitchen. Ruth and David Stern were both well-known architects who were part of the Jewish communities of Norrice Lea and Highgate. David designed the shuls at Kingsbury, Oxford and Richmond.

“I look back at photos of myself as a child and there are lots of me in the kitchen, wearing an apron, wooden spoon in hand. I cooked with my grandma, and my parents are both great cooks. We had Friday night dinners and I went to synagogue on festivals. It was always about family and food. We met over food. When I am cooking and working in restaurants I think about the hospitality of the Jewish family and want to recreate that.”

Although he followed his grandparents into architecture, Graham soon realised that he wanted to be creative with food rather than buildings. He began ploughing through catering college books in his own time, teaching himself the basics needed in the professional kitchen.

Yet when he landed a job at Odette’s in Primrose Hill as a lowly commis-chef, it was another story.

“When you get into a real kitchen it’s like starting all over again. I was lucky as the team at Odette’s were happy to help. Head chef, Dan Fancett always said that I could cook but he would teach me how to be a chef.”

Then followed stints at L’Autre Pied in Marylebone, and Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental, where he says he learned more about simple, precise cooking.

The head chef role at Pidgin was unexpected. Attracted by the idea of a set menu which changes every week, he applied for a sous-chef position. Then the head chef broke her wrist and Graham stepped in .

A typical menu (not for the faint hearted and emphatically not for kosher diners) might require customers to consult an encyclopaedia: “smoked tobiko” (Japanese flying fish roe) and “monksbeard” (a grass-like vegetable from Tuscany) sit alongside intriguing concotions that elevate the everyday — “hay baked asparagus” or “black cardamon hollandaise” for example. No dish is ever repeated and Dan is always trying to do things differently.

“I wanted to create a black ice cream, so I went into the kitchen and took out everything that was black — black sesame, black sugar, black cardamom, sweet soy sauce and black vinegar and then constructed the dish from there. It was delicious and interesting.”

Graham’s cooking has gone from rustic to dramatic, while his time travelling in Asia and Australia influences his meticulously sourced ingredients and diversity of flavours.

But some ideas are closer to home. He has featured his mum’s cheese chocolate brownies on the menu and says he seeks inspiration in his Jewish roots.

“In Judaism I think there is a huge symbolism around food. Every food has a meaning —think about the Seder plate. I have been intrigued by the traditional Greek Jewish way of cooking eggs, with coffee grinds, and I love the trend for modern Middle Eastern cuisine. I feel an urge to study the traditional Jewish foods.”

The Pidgin team will spread their wings in the next fortnight with new venture, Magpie for which Graham is executive chef, “It’s going to be something new and exciting in a prime central London location. We are planning a dim sum style service, with trays and trolleys circulating the restaurant with small sharing plates.”

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